Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Big Apple, July 2006: By Bus, Train, Car, or Airplane???

Back in mid-July, Normal Girl and I decided to make a trip down to New York City, and we defined a handful of Trip Goals:

1.) Visit her best friend from childhood
2.) See a “real Broadway show”
3.) Glimpse the Statue of Liberty (since Normal Guy hadn’t seen it)
4.) Introduce Normal Girl to Normal Guy’s college roommate

With the trip defined and the requisite vacation days reserved, we tackled the next important task: Choosing the Means of Transport.

This can be a complicated issue.

On the one hand, the fastest way is to take the shuttle. US Airways and Delta run hourly flights connecting Logan and LaGuardia, while JetBlue has been giving away flights into JFK. Hop a cab at LGA and you’re in the city a half hour later (if you’ve made your requisite virgin sacrifices to the traffic gods, of course).

But how fast is it, really? Door-to-door you’re looking at close to three hours. As a frequent flier, more comfortable in a coach airplane seat than in the front seat of a car, I’m pretty much obsessed with convenience. Flying seems pretty darned convenient on the face of things, yet there’s something about the BOS-LGA shuttle that doesn’t work for me; it sure seems a lot of extra price and headache to get someplace an hour faster, and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that Normal Girl would definitely have to check a bag…

[CAVEAT: I’m talking leisure travel here -- if you’ve got a meeting in the city, there’s simply no other way to do it. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation.]

Then you have the train… Man, don’t get me started. Every time I make a trip to New York, I forget how unreasonable the train is. I swear I’ll never waste my time on the Amtrack website again. Normal Girl asked about it, though, so I went online and found that we could fly for about the same price. Sure, the train is comfortable, and if you have to get some work done on the way, it is probably an option worth considering. The train is not for us.

Technically, we could drive Normal Car (a ’97 Camry). The drive would take about five hours, including bathroom-and-soda stops. Gas prices are pretty steep, though, and there’s the wear and tear to consider, then parking fees in the city, plus the fact that neither of us knows the tricks of driving in Manhattan. Our hotel is in Times Square, which is central enough that we ought to be able to find it, even with Normal Girl’s less-than-stellar navigational skills. Still, what really makes me dread this option is the idea of having to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Bronx. [FLASHBACK ALERT: I remember all too well three adolescent hours in my family’s 1985 Oldsmobile, windows down, a poor substitute for air conditioning, when there was an accident on the George Washington Bridge and we ended up detoured through Bruckner Ave. Not my fondest travel memory…] No, I am not ready to relive that hell.

We agree the bus is the best option. There is even a high-class vendor, LimoLiner, that has Internet access, waitress service, and air freshener. I check out their website and although it looks like somebody has definitely come up with a brilliant idea, we decide that if we’re going to go bus, we’re going lowbrow.

When it comes to New York by bus, there are two ways to go:
- Chinatown Bus
- Not Chinatown Bus

A few years ago, my buddies and I took the Fung Wah bus from Chinatown, Boston, to Mohegan Sun to satisfy a gambling fix. The trip was dirt cheap: $20 round-trip, with a $10 meal voucher and a $10 bet coupon (which makes it basically free, for those of you scoring at home). There was a movie to keep us entertained, with only one minor catch: it was in Cantonese. To help those who do not speak that dialect, Mandarin subtitles were provided. Headphones were blissfully unnecessary, since the sound played through the overhead speakers for all to enjoy. And, since the overhead lights would make it hard for some people to see the small screens, they disabled the overhead lights. So my grand plans for reading The New Yorker fell apart, and I was forced to learn Chinese the way so many of the men and women surrounding me had learned their English; sadly, I didn’t learn too much…

The final verdict: Greyhound, baby… South Station to Port Authority. A hop, skip, and a jump from Times Square. Door to door in just a shade over five hours. Not too bad, and it only cost us $40 each. And sure enough, we spent about an hour stuck in traffic. We played a few hands of Gin, read our magazines, listened to our iPods, and visited the bathroom whenever we damn well pleased.

Check back soon for tales of our adventures in the Big Apple.

Greyhound –
Fung Wah –


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